What Books Should I Read before Starting at RBC?

Posted On July 21, 2021

Written by Dr. Keith Mathison, professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College

Several times a year, we have student Preview Day events at Reformation Bible College. Almost inevitably, someone will raise his or her hand during a Q&A session and ask, “What books should I read before starting at RBC?” During my years in seminary, I worked in the campus bookstore, and I am an unapologetic bibliophile. I love to recommend books. However, when I receive this question from incoming students, I am always at something of a loss. Part of the problem is that I wish they had asked the question four or five years earlier because when I get started recommending books, I can have a difficult time stopping. Once I finish, the questioner has a list of recommended reading that would take several years to complete. Usually by the time they ask us this question they have between three and twelve months before they begin their courses at RBC.

Furthermore, many of the books that immediately spring to mind are books that I require in my theology courses. So someone may ask what books they should read before beginning studies at RBC, and after I suggest several titles, I receive the follow-up question: “What about Calvin’s Institutes? You didn’t recommend that one. Why not?” Well, because we require significant sections of Calvin’s Institutes in each of the systematic theology courses. By the time you finish all seven required systematic theology courses, you will have read almost all of Calvin’s Institutes. So, what books would I recommend as a preparation for those planning to enroll at RBC? First, if you have never read the Bible cover to cover, start there. If you have read the entire Bible but have never read the great Reformed confessions of faith, read the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

If you have already read those, the following additional books are among those I would recommend:

  1. R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God and Chosen by God. These books should be required reading for all Christians. Both are modern theological classics.

  2. T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem. This is a brilliant introduction to some of the basic themes of biblical theology. It will whet students’ appetites for more.

  3. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? This book by my friend and former RBC colleague will change the way you look at Leviticus, which will in turn better your understanding of the entire Bible.

  4. Augustine, Confessions. Augustine is the greatest theologian of the first millennium of the church’s post-apostolic history. One cannot be a serious theologian without having read his Confessions.

  5. Louis Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine. We require Berkhof’s Systematic Theology as a text in all of our systematic theology courses. His Manual is a good summary overview of what he covers in much more detail in the larger work.

  6. Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God. If you read it, you will understand why I recommend it.

  7. Willem van Asselt, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism. Much of the reading I assign in the systematic theology classes is taken from Reformed scholastic theologians like Francis Turretin and Petrus van Mastricht. Asselt’s book provides some context for understanding what Reformed scholasticism is and isn’t.

  8. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. This is simply one of the best books I’ve read in the last 30 years. It helps to explain how our move from a word-based culture to an image-based culture changed so many things.

  9. John Newton, Letters. In these letters, Newton applies profound biblical wisdom to a host of theological and practical questions. I re-read his letter “On Controversy” at least once a year.

  10. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. I recommend this one only because I often make allusions to Middle-earth, and knowing the story will help students recognize these allusions.

Dr. Keith Mathison is professor of Systematic Theology at Reformation Bible College.

Read Other Articles Written by Dr. Keith Mathison:

Our Bachelor Programs

The Five Solas

Why Theology Is Different

Books to Read This Summer

The Incomprehensibility of God